Have you noticed how some places have their own distinctive colour palette: the pretty pastels of the Caribbean, for instance, or the dramatic greys of Iceland? When it comes to Peru, it’s a full-on assault of clashing colours. They sum up the passion and spirit of this South American nation: vermillion, purple, ultramarine, emerald and gold. The vivid shades of its beautifully-woven textiles echo the warmth of the welcome that’s always extended to visitors. Stay for a few weeks and you’ll depart with memories that will last a lifetime, or at least that’s how it was for us.
Curled up on the sofa, turning page after compelling page of Dervla Murphy’s Eight Feet in the Andes, we’re transported back to this incredible country. From the opening pages of our favourite Peruvian read, Matthew Parris’ wonderful Inca Kola, we get a sense of the ridiculous fun the four travelling companions experience as they drive through a Lima market scattering stallholders and their wares in all directions. It’s laugh out loud funny, but don’t take our word for it.
Going loco never feels this good anywhere else. You might think such scenes exist only in the imagination of writers. But, we can tell you, it’s not been all that long since you’d have experienced just the same kind of mayhem on a train to Machu Picchu. We recall grubby hands proffering toasted corn cobs through open windows and the scramble for the coins we threw from our slow-moving train by way of payment. It’s different now, of course. Comfortable padded seats have replaced the butt-numbing wood. Meanwhile, a glass roof and picture windows reveal some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet in a way that the old carriages never could.
We might not be able to book that rail trip just yet but a virtual visit to Machu Picchu is entirely possible. This fabled Inca citadel, abandoned to the ravages of time for over 300 years, somehow manages to retain an air of mystery despite the hordes that descend daily through its gate. Any visitor has to be prepared for the multilingual soundtrack of dozens of enthusiastic tour guides, not to mention the grazing llamas that no one’s quite had the heart to evict.
Not for nothing is this Peru’s number one visitor attraction, though the tourism authorities are trying their hardest to shift some tourists north to Kuélap and the world of the Chachapoyas, the cloud people, whose civilisation predated the Incas. Here too, historians and archaeologists are still grappling to understand what they’ve uncovered, and the circular structures of this hilltop fortress are as intriguing as they are photogenic. Until you make it there in real life, you can get a sneak preview by watching this dramatic drone footage.
It takes considerably more effort to reach remote Choquequirao than either Machu Picchu or Kuélap. Right now, the only way to and from this ruined Inca city is a challenging hike through the steep Apurimac valley. It’s way more demanding than hiking the well-worn stones of the Inca Trail. But what a sight rewards those who make it up there. Whether you plan to tick this off your bucket list the hard way or wait for the promised cable car, we say dream with us and take a look at this incredible 360° footage from the comfort of your couch.
When we tear ourselves away, we intend only to make it as far as the kitchen, where we’ll rustle up some Peruvian food – it’s surprisingly easy. Of course, cuy – roast guinea pig – is a no, or we’ll find ourselves in some serious trouble with animal welfare groups. But, so long as we can get hold of some really fresh fish, the addition of a few chillies and plenty of lime juice will have us well on the way to a half-decent ceviche. (First-timers, boost your confidence with this online masterclass.) No fish? We’ll just throw together another popular staple, lomo saltado, a delicious stir-fried beef dish often accompanied by chips. The home of the potato also brings us yummy Causa Limeña and Papa a la Huancaína if chips don’t feel sufficiently South American.